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From public health to private business

By Vicente Clavero

To justify their cuts, the Popular Party (PP) has long been trying to convince us that Spain’s public health system suffers unsustainable hypertrophy. Nothing could be further from the truth: in 2008, at the start of the economic crisis, Spain devoted 6.5% of its GDP to this end. This is well below the average of the top fifteen countries of the European Union, which was then 7.3%.

Under the false premise of exorbitant spending, PP prime minister Mariano Rajoy has taken an axe to the health system, to destroy the two main pillars that sustain it: its universality and the fact that is free. There are groups, such as undocumented immigrants, who have been excluded from medical care, despite contributing to the sustaining health service through taxes on consumption. And they have expanded, without any consideration of the consequences, user charges or ‘co-payment’ for some services.

The demolition of the public health system, as we knew it, is being conducted with particular impudence by the Madrid regional government, which is a veritable laboratory for the PP’s neoliberal prescriptions. First Esperanza Aguirre, and now Ignacio Gonzalez have taken things to the extreme, provoking the open hostility of professionals and users, who have mobilized against these policies in a movement that has become known, very graphically, as the ‘marea blanca’ or ‘white tide’, a reference to health workers’ white uniforms.

The two most recent steps by the regional government are the imposition of a charge of one euro per prescription – rejected even by PP prime minister Mariano Rajoy, who plans to appeal the move in the Constitutional Court, and the privatization of the management of eight hospitals and 27 health centres, whose announcement was received with a month of strikes. The latter has been decided on the grounds that this will make significant savings, but the Madrid government’s health department has yet to offer the public a shred of evidence to sustain this assertion.

The lack of evidence on the economic benefits of privatization fuel suspicions that, in reality, it is a purely ideological attempt by the PP to take advantage of the budgetary constraints arising from the crisis. And that’s the best case scenario, because there is an increasingly widespread belief that behind the outsourcing of health services are hidden, quite simply, businesses which are no strangers to the policy’s most determined promoters.

That this predatory attack on the public health system often just ends up being self-serving has been shown again by the new health minister in Madrid, Juan Jose Guemes, son in law of that “model citizen”, Carlos Fabra [the longstanding Popular Party head of Castellón’s provincial government placed under judicial investigation in 2012 in connection with several cases of corruption and tax evasion] Since last August, Güemes was on the payroll of Unilabs, which purchased the company which, in 2009, won an exclusive contract for medical analysis in six Madrid hospitals.

His predecessor as Madrid health minister, Manuel Lamela, has also taken advantage of his stint in the Madrid administration: in 2011 he founded a company dedicated to selling health tourism packages abroad. He baptised the firm under the unequivocal name of Madrid Medical Destination and in this venture was associated with Capio, which manages the capital’s Valdemoro Hospital built under his rule.

Both Lamela and Güemes are not only two examples of the great business that can be had at the cost of [public] health care, but they also provide new ammunition for those who believe that privatization often has motives less worthy than those who promote it.

Publico.es   13.1.2013

Translation/Edit by Revolting Europe

More on Madrid’s health privatization scandal from El Pais

More on the Marea Blanca protest movement

About revoltingeurope

Writer on Europe's Left, trade union and social movements @tomgilltweets or @revoltingeurope


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